Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 23, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Atalia Omer of the University of Notre Dame discusses the role of cultural and religious identity in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


October 23, 2013

The BBC decided to investigate the M.B.A. program offered by American University of London, and so enrolled a dog named Pete, giving him the fake name Peter Smith and a fake biography with various job titles. The university requires that students submit photographs, but the BBC opted not to send one, since the picture would have shown a dog. No problem. The university offered Pete an M.B.A., with no academic work, for $7,300. In a statement to the BBC, the institution defended itself. "We are not a bogus university … and have always been upfront about our status," said the statement. "We have not applied for accreditation with any American, British or other official agency. Many graduates go on to higher education or hold important positions on the strength of our degrees."


October 23, 2013

Boston authorities have banned Greek houses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from holding any parties or large gatherings at houses in the city, The Boston Globe reported. (Most MIT fraternity and sorority houses are in Boston, not in Cambridge.) Boston officials said that they need to get information about the safety of the houses. The move follows an injury to a fraternity member who crashed through a skylight and fell four stories during a recent party.


October 23, 2013

A spokeswoman for the London School of Economics told Times Higher Education that the university is attempting to establish the facts surrounding last week’s dismissal of Xia Yeliang from Peking University, a partner institution of LSE. 

The dismissal of Xia from Peking’s economics department purportedly for political reasons has been widely watched as an important test case for academic freedom in China – one with implications for Western universities collaborating with institutions there. Xia has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and an advocate of democracy. In September, more than 130 faculty members at Wellesley College signed a letter saying they would urge the administration to reconsider Wellesley’s institutional partnership with Peking if the university fired Xia (as it announced Friday that it had).

Peking has said the reason for firing Xia is his poor teaching record.

Although the LSE spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the university is looking into the case, the president and vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, another partner institution of Peking, told the newspaper it would be inappropriate to take a position on the matter.

“Universities have their own procedures on accountability, agreed with their governing bodies, and as an autonomous institution we avoid intervening in the complex decisions that other institutions may have to take from time to time,” Colin Riordan said in a statement.

October 23, 2013

The Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) has learned that the Title VIII program – a U.S. State Department program that funds language training and research in Eurasian and Eastern European studies – did not receive an appropriation for the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Because the money is typically allocated one year and spent the next, that means a significant reduction in the number of fellowships and grants available in 2013-14.

The budget for Title VIII had already sustained cuts: while the funding level averaged about $4.5 million per year throughout the early 2000s, it was cut to $3.3 million in fiscal year 2012, according to an analysis of the funding situation that ASEEES published in its newsletter earlier this year. 

“Government seems to be shortsighted in cutting these small programs that have large outcomes," said Lynda Park, the association's executive director. 

"I think just about every specialist in our field who was trained in the last 25 years was impacted by Title VIII in one form or another.”

ASEEES is maintaining a list on its website of programs that will be suspended for the 2013-14 year. The association is advocating for the restoration of funding for 2014-15. 

October 23, 2013

Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System will conduct an institutional review – of all departments, not just athletics – after its football players boycotted their game Saturday over poor management and facility conditions, USA Today reported Tuesday. Pogue and Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley will lead the review, which will comprise a comprehensive university assessment and recommendations for improvement.

“I believe good things can come from creative tension,” Grambling President Frank Pogue told the Louisiana Board of Supervisors. “You can use creative tension to bring attention to the needs of society. In this case we are using it to bring attention to something larger than athletics – larger than football. What we are addressing today is symptomatic of something larger that exists on our campus, our financial plight.”

Also on Tuesday, Grambling's scheduled opponents for Saturday, Jackson State University, announced the institution would sue "Grambling State and others" over the financial loss. In a statement, a Jackson State spokesman described how Grambling repeatedly reassured officials that the team would compete in the sold-out homecoming game before ultimately failing to show Saturday. The financial losses to the university and the city could be in the millions, the statement says.

"We have a fiduciary responsibility to Mississippi taxpayers and the JSU community to mitigate our ongoing and substantial losses," it says. "It would be irresponsible for JSU to fail to pursue some redress."

October 22, 2013

William Peace University, an 800-student liberal arts college in North Carolina, announced Monday it had closed a controversial land deal that has drawn criticism of the university by already suspicious alumnae, including major donors. It plans to spend nearly $21 million on a shopping center and other property across the street from its campus. Of that, $10.75 million is coming from the university's $33 million endowment -- a third of the endowment, though less than the two-thirds some had suggested would be used for the deal.

The rest of the funding comes from a $10 million bank loan that is structured to put only the new property and not any of the university's existing assets on the line in the event of a default, said Billie Redmond, CEO of Trademark Properties, which brokered the deal for William Peace. Redmond said the vast majority of the shopping center is leased and generates a steady flow of income. The university also can use parcels it purchased for expansion. 

The land deal is only the latest in a series of controversies that involve nearly every aspect of Peace’s operations – the once all-women’s college began admitting men, changed its name, asked faculty to sign agreements giving away their rights to take the university to court, downsized and is attempting to grow its enrollment, according to local news media accounts.

October 22, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Timothy Roth of Franklin and Marshall College explores the link between local climate and brain capacity within wide-ranging species. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


October 22, 2013

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, is traveling with Texas A&M University officials to Israel this week to announce plans to open a branch campus in Nazareth, considered the leading Arab city in Israel, The Bryan-College Station Eagle reported. The campus, which will award Texas A&M degrees, will be called Texas A&M University at Nazareth - Peace Campus, and will aim to educate Christians, Jews and Muslims together. Israeli officials have been pushing to expand higher education opportunities for Arabs in Israel, and are backing the plan by pledging to seek an exemption to Israeli regulations that would normally prohibit the creation of a branch campus by a foreign institution. Texas A&M, which as a public institution cannot use state funds for the project, is planning to raise money for it.


October 22, 2013

In preparation for homecoming weekend, Amherst College sent resident counselors an advisory e-mail that included a warning to watch out for alumni. “Keep an eye out for unwanted sexual advances,” the e-mail said, according to Newsweek. “A lot of alums come back for Homecoming pretty jaded with the bar scene and blind dating of the real world and are eager to take advantage of what they now perceive to be an ‘easy’ hook-up scene back at Amherst. Also, many alums tend to be pretty drunk all weekend long.”

Critics said the message, which advises counselors to “alert your residents to this unfortunate combination,” tasks women with avoiding assault rather than addressing the potential assailants. Amherst has faced scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault cases after a student described her experience in the campus newspaper, and has begun making policy and procedural changes on campus.

Note: The above paragraph has been updated to reflect the fact that Amherst is not under federal investigation.

Amherst President Biddy Martin said in a statement that the email appeared to have "originated from a document that was several years old," and the author was likely a student from 2007. "It includes unwarranted and crass characterizations of our alumni," Martin said. "I want to apologize.... Given the seriousness with which we take sexual assault, our commitment to changing how we address it, and the comprehensive strategies we are putting in place, these failures of judgment are most disappointing. We will take appropriate measures to address them."



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